The Nazarene is an attempt to capture the drama and meaning of the life of Christ in its historical and cultural context from several perspectives. Jesus is particularly viewed from the vantage points of a high-ranking Roman officer, Judas Iscariot, and a devout student of the Rabbi Nicodemon. Many other perspectives are depicted as well. Jesus is seen differently by the ruling Sanhedrin; by his mother, Mary; by Mary Magdalene; by Rufus, a young student who will eventually join the “Messianist” sect; and by the masses of devout Jews in Jerusalem.
As a unifying device and to show the historical significance of his subject matter, Sholem Asch uses the concept of reincarnation to bring three of his first century characters to twentieth century Poland. Their discussions and lengthy narratives then provide the vehicle to tell the story. Asch also uses the device of a “recently-discovered manuscript” to relate the events of the Gospels from the perspective of Judas Iscariot.
The novel is divided into three parts. The first part is a rather convoluted effort to depict a twentieth century scholar, an expert on the ancient Near East, Pan Viadomsky, as the reincarnation of the Roman officer Cornelius, who arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His arrogance and pragmatic ruthlessness are portrayed convincingly in both roles. Asch uses the Roman soldier as a means of describing for his readers the cultural setting of ancient...
(The entire section is 461 words.)